Re: Keyboard support and ARIA


Some relatively simple thoughts.

I think with Web apps (as with desktop apps) there are four things that 
are very important -- if we can give the user these, everything else 

1. Predictable focus
2. Predictable timing
3. Input configurability (keyboard shortcuts)
4. The ability to easily toggle and share input configurations

The longer version:

Users who don't use the mouse are much more aware of how often the 
computer seemingly randomly rips the focus away from what you're doing. 
(When you're using a mouse you often put the focus back without 
realizing it. When you're using speech you sometimes don't notice the 
focus has changed, and then say a command and are surprised by the 
result. Even if you do notice the focus has changed, it's annoying to 
have to interrupt what you're doing to move the focus back.)
How can we give users an option to more closely control the focus?

Speech input is most powerful when you can speak in command phrases (if 
there's no need to think between commands there's no need to have 
separate commands other than to accommodate the input process). Speech 
engines also use a lot of resources. From the user's point of view, 
speech slows down sometimes, and occasionally a longer command hangs, or 
the focus changes mid-command. This is a common enough experience that 
jargon has popped up around it -- "Dragon's out to lunch".
How can we give users an option to more closely control application 

It's obvious that key configurability is important, and that different 
users have different needs. The ability to configure in patterns also 
makes things much easier. For instance, single-letter shortcuts are 
great for some users, and in some situations for speech users, but in 
other situations, it's a lot better if you have the ability to put 
combination keys in front of all those shortcuts, because simply by 
speaking any words you can say lots of letters at once. 

The ability that makes configurability an order of magnitude more 
powerful is sharing configurations. Users with very different needs can 
spend a lot of time configuring but if they can share their work with 
other users the average time configuring can go way down. This brings 
along many more people, and also brings good configurations to light.

Thinking about this, and also thinking that good defaults make 
configuring easier, and looking at what Simon has written below, what 
I'd like is a good mechanism for people to choose a default, 
user-supplied override or even Web designer override. As a user I'd like 
to start with a good set of defaults, change a few things globally that 
are better for me as a speech user, then be able to easily discover (or 
ignore) if a Web page has a special way of doing something, and be able 
to easily toggle that and my defaults in those very few cases where the 
special way makes sense given the way I use the computer. And then I'd 
like to be able to share all of it in a way where my changes are easily 

One other thought. If a keyboard shortcut can be a string of keys, not 
just keys pressed at once, there are many more combinations. The key 
here, of course, is that the full string can be passed without timing 


Simon Harper wrote:
> Hi there,
> thanks for the clarification - one thing I had in mind was the 
> definition of a 'web' modifier key - say function lock, which modifies 
> the OS keyboard scan codes, in this way I would expect the OS/Browser 
> to understand which keystokes are intended for which platform. I don't 
> think this will be solved my just web tech - but I do think that the 
> likes of Google will be expecting to create a clean and holistic 
> experience for their chrome os and the web apps that sit with it; 
> likewise (maybe) for Apple Web Apps. Once we think of a webapp as just 
> software we can see that the keyboard, and assignments of key 
> combinations, are really internationalisation issues and we can allow 
> local assignments based on language setting and semantics of the 
> key_action assigned - however encouraging web designers to have free 
> range with ad-hoc key combination (accesskeys+js) assignments is a 
> mistake in my opinion. Having a well defined way of doing this would 
> be better. Heck can HTML5 just not include an 'action' attribute with 
> a defined set of opcodes to facilitate localisable control. I agree 
> about the number you could have but touch gestures, haptic gestures, 
> and key modifier codes could be included - it will take time for 
> HTML5's uptake.
> Cheers
> Si
> On 31 Jul 2009, at 16:13, Charles McCathieNevile wrote:
>> On Fri, 31 Jul 2009 14:54:59 +0200, Simon Harper 
>> <> wrote:
>>> Thanks for that Henny,
>>> One think comes to mind, could we not mark up elements that can 
>>> enact programmatic events with explicit 'action' semantics. Such as:
>> Between the use of ARIA roles, and @rel values, we have a fair amount 
>> of information about common patterns already. It is not feasible to 
>> provide default keyboard shortcuts for a huge set of things - when 
>> you have a keyboard like Opera mini usually encounters, even using 
>> key combos you have 30 things you can assign, and most of those are 
>> given to the UI or common links already. (Actually iPhone's gestures, 
>> and mouse gestures in Opera, have a similar role in life and similar 
>> limitations in numbers).
>> But where there are common ways to describe common semantics, making 
>> things that are an explicitly keybaord-controllable function is 
>> better than just listening for various javascript events. And using 
>> things like tabindex and accesskey (which although they are still 
>> sub-optimal in implementation are no more broken than mysterious 
>> key-trapping in javascript) is a step forward too.
>>> <ul>
>>>     <li><a id="ks_file">File</a><li>
>>>     <ul>
>>>         <li><a id="ks_tab">New Tab</a><li>
>>>         <li><a id="ks_file">Open File</a><li>
>>>         <li><a id="ks_location">Open Location</a><li>
>>>     </ul>
>>>     <li><a id="ks_edit">Edit</a><li>
>>>     <li><a id="ks_help">Help</a><li>
>>> </ul>
>>> Then allow the browser (maybe even OS specific) to assign standard 
>>> key shortcuts. In this way you get mouse-less browsing but with 
>>> constancy across applications and operating systems, and you don't 
>>> have to be prescriptive wrt browser manufacturers.
>> There are a few things in basic HTML 4 that enable this. You won't 
>> get complete consistency - what I can do on a touch screen phone with 
>> 4 buttons isn't the same as what I can do on a standard keyboard, and 
>> that is different from what i can do on a Russian keyboard. But a web 
>> application should be capable of adapting to all of these - and that 
>> means either a huge enomous and almost definitely hopelessly 
>> incomplete author-specified set of shortcuts, or a mechanism that 
>> allows the browser to assign the shortcut, with a default suggested 
>> by the author in the hope that it might be available.
>>> Not sure if this helps any but I think we really need to look into 
>>> this.
>> Agreed. Cheers
>>> Cheers
>>> Si.
>>> =======================
>>> Simon Harper
>>> University of Manchester (UK)
>>> Human Centred Web Lab:
>>> My Site:
>>> My Diary (Web): 
>>> My Diary (Subscribe): 
>>> On 31 Jul 2009, at 12:19, Henny Swan wrote:
>>>> Folks,
>>>> Here's a copy of Chaal's mail to WAI-xtech concerning keyboard 
>>>> support and ARIA.
>>>> Cheers, Henny
>>>> Begin forwarded message:
>>>>> Resent-From:
>>>>> From: "Charles McCathieNevile" <>
>>>>> Date: 16 July 2009 16:37:01 BST
>>>>> To: "" <>
>>>>> Subject: Keyboard support and ARIA
>>>>> Hi folks,
>>>>> I have had a concern for a while (I recall raising it several 
>>>>> times over the last few years, but have been focussed on other 
>>>>> things and not followed so clearly) about the use of pure 
>>>>> Javascript to deal with keyboard accessibility.
>>>>> The major issue is the nature of keyboard interaction in 
>>>>> Javascript. Put briefly, it's a horrible mess with no concept of 
>>>>> device independence. So on the face of it, the idea that it would 
>>>>> be a good base for building accessibility seems like an odd notion.
>>>>> Digging into the details we find that several attempts to specify 
>>>>> this in a way considered workable have ended with clever people 
>>>>> throwing up their hands and saying "we could document some more of 
>>>>> the current mess, but it isn't actually anything you would want 
>>>>> people to use" (or things to that effect). Changing keyboard 
>>>>> layouts, browsers, devices, alphabets, language - almost anything 
>>>>> causes this to go from a nasty mess to a plain old failure.
>>>>> By comparison, the use of tabindex and real links or buttons, as 
>>>>> per old-fashioned HTML, seems to allow for a much more flexible 
>>>>> interaction model. HTML 5's command element, it's improved 
>>>>> specification of accesskey, and the growing understanding that 
>>>>> this stuff should be left to user agents and users rather than 
>>>>> page authors, offers the promise of being able to make keyboard 
>>>>> interaction actually work properly in more than one language or 
>>>>> device without having to develop massive collections of 
>>>>> alternatives with 5-variant testing to choose the right one.
>>>>> The migration path, as always, is actually messy. Currently 
>>>>> accesskey implementations range from not very good (e.g. Opera on 
>>>>> desktop which has some bugs and limitations, or really basic phone 
>>>>> browsers that only allow numbers) to the awful (e.g. things that 
>>>>> let pages override normal user agent interface), with a good dose 
>>>>> of the non-existent. Meanwhile, interrupting everything with 
>>>>> javascript means that the issue of where the priority should go is 
>>>>> also raised.
>>>>> I don't think these are insoluble problems, but I do see a lot of 
>>>>> work moving in a direction that looks like a very ugly ad very 
>>>>> limiting dead-end, that could actually significantly reduce the 
>>>>> practical value of ARIA far below its potential.
>>>>> Cheers
>>>>> Chaals
>>>>> --Charles McCathieNevile  Opera Software, Standards Group
>>>>>    je parle franšais -- hablo espa˝ol -- jeg lŠrer norsk
>>>>>       Try Opera:
>>>> --Henny Swan
>>>> Web Evangelist
>>>> Member of W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Education and Outreach 
>>>> Group
>>>> Personal blog:
>>>> Stay up to date with the Web Standards Curriculum
>> -- 
>> Charles McCathieNevile  Opera Software, Standards Group
>>     je parle franšais -- hablo espa˝ol -- jeg lŠrer norsk
>>       Try Opera:
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Kimberly Patch
Redstart Systems, Inc., makers of Utter Command
(617) 325-3966 <>
- making speech fly

Patch on Speech <> blog
Redstart Systems <> on Twitter

Received on Tuesday, 4 August 2009 22:01:12 UTC